The Mashup of Cocaine Bear, and the Rise of M3GAN: The Story of the Milky Way and the Crowd
It’s obvious that Cocaine Bear is a movie that will make people laugh and make them cringe. It gets bonus points for inspiring scientific inquiry into the effects of cocaine on bears, and for writing a piece about how bears are affected by cocaine. (For those wondering about that scientific question, the 175-pound bear who inspired the film died of an overdose.) The movie is also a nod to a popular image macro and feels like the kind of film people will see just to post about it.
Coming a few weeks before Cocaine Bear’s February 24 release is M3GAN. This column has already delved into the diabolical doll dance moves that the film’s trailer inspired, and there’s no need to retread that angle here. But watching M3GAN’s titular droid bend and snap her way through countless mashups, it was hard not to see the irony of a movie about the horrors of artificial intelligence being promoted with a marketing campaign engineered for peak virality, as if the same algorithms were responsible for both its script and PR blitz.
Speaking of discourse, the Sundance Film Festival announced its lineup for 2023 this week. Cat Person is one of the most eye-catching entries. It’s not clear if the film will follow the same narrative as the New Yorker short story but it will be interesting to see if the level of attention and discussion is the same.
The Cat Person story was originally published in late 2017, when it was at the center of the #Metoo movement and amidst a flurry of conversations around the topic. The internet was credited with sending the internet into a “meltdown”, and is still mentioned nearly every time. Five years later, a retelling may have different impacts, but it does seem poised to ride a similar wave. (Side note: The author of “Cat Person,” Kristen Roupenian, wrote the story on which Bodies Bodies Bodies—another film for the extremely online—was based.)
“Cocaine Bear”: Exploiting Drug Dealers to Make Them More Efficient – a Case Study in Lake Placid
Lake Placid may be a funnier movie than Snakes because of its laughs and scares in the rampage of a giant alligator. “Bear” doesn’t achieve that level of wit, but it does ratchet up the gore factor with limbs occasionally flying in all directions, those body parts looking a whole lot more realistic than the bear itself.
Indeed, despite being (very loosely) inspired by true events, and an errant shipment of cocaine lost in the Georgia woods in the mid-1980s, the movie bears about as much resemblance to those facts as the often-cartoonish-looking ursa does to something you might see in a David Attenborough documentary. It feels like the missing piece is a hat and picnic baskets, instead of cocaine.
As we’ve witnessed in other movies that employ movie magic to replicate present-day animals (as opposed to, say, monsters or dinosaurs), the bear might be unstoppable, but shoddy CGI renderings can halt a movie in its tracks. You don’t really see the effectiveness of this bear when you are in the vicinity, but it’s most effective when it’s in the background.
The film derives a level of humor from the fact that a bunch of people are in smallish roles that make them expendable.
So there’s Keri Russell as a mom trying to find her hooky-playing kid; Alden Ehrenreich (“Solo”) and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. as employees of the drug dealer (Ray Liotta, in one of his final roles) dispatched to locate the missing coke; Isiah Whitlock Jr. as a cop seeking the same; and Margo Martindale as a park ranger with amorous designs on a visiting biologist (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).
The template has a problem as nobody actuallyregisters until they become potential bear food. Already an apex predator, this chemically enhanced bear possesses extraordinary abilities and appetites, with the only means of escaping those slavering jaws being to distract the addicted beast with even more cocaine.
Nobody can accuse “Cocaine Bear” of taking itself too seriously, because exploitation fare has its place. But there’s still a sense that practically all the good stuff – including a sequence where the titular star chases an ambulance – is in the coming attractions, and the movie’s “elevator pitch” has exhausted its novelty before the car reaches the ground floor.
The genre does reflect an expansion of Banks’ directing resume after “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Charlie’s Angels,” and the film only runs about 95 minutes, so the filmmakers were wise enough not to overly stretch an already-thin premise beyond its limitations.
Universal, which is releasing the movie, recently had a low-budget horror hit called “M3GAN”, which has already spawned hopes for a sequel. To the extent wandering around the woods being menaced by an unconvincing bear doesn’t cost much either, even a modicum of success will probably unleash a Cocaine Bear Cinematic Universe.
Why the movie didn’t go well with coke, and why we don’t really care if it was a good idea or a bad idea?
If so, give the kudos more to the concept than the movie, which mostly demonstrates, with apologies to an old marketing slogan, that things don’t always go better with coke.